When I was teenager, I loved the movie Same time, Next Year. It starred Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. They meet each other one weekend at an inn and end up in bed together—which wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy except that they are both married to other people. Despite that, they agree to meet once a year at that same place because they don’t want to let each other go. And they don’t. Every year they have contact that one weekend. Sometimes it involves sex, sometimes it doesn’t. But it always involves some a type of catharsis and support through the challenges they are facing in their lives and the challenges out in the world.
They never leave their spouses or families even when there are other trying times. As far as I remember, they don’t spend the year writing letters, calling or plotting their meetings. In whatever ways they can, the weekend is separate from their normal lives.
It sounds like something I would hate. Cheating, even in films, tends to make me cranky. But there was something about this movie that fascinated me. I could say that it was my love for Alan Alda, but I think it was more than that. Perhaps if I saw it now as an adult, I would feel differently about it.
Which leads me to today’s question. How would you feel if your spouse saw someone else once a year? Apparently, in keeping with the movie, it never bleeds over into your daily relationship with your spouse. But you know that, for whatever reason, he/she needs this other person—this break from his/her life each year. Your spouse loves this other person, but you also honestly believe that he/she loves you and your life together.
Would you accept this arrangement? Would you demand that he/she never sees this other person again? Could you feel secure that it wasn’t happening with other people? Would it be different if he/she told you upfront about the arrangement rather than having you discover it? If you discover it after 20 years does it make your own relationship look like a lie, or does it lessen the threat because your relationship has continued despite that one weekend out each year?
Logically, I know that we can’t be everything to our partners. Rationally, I understand that the person I love has loved, and needed, other people. But I’m not sure I could convince myself that his need for that other relationship didn’t somehow threaten the one he was in with me, and if I found out after 20 years, I can’t say that it wouldn’t change the way I saw him, or the life we had together. Somehow those 3 days a year would weigh heavily even against the 362 that he was, in theory, with me. Because I couldn’t compartmentalize my relationships, I’d have a hard time believing that he could. And I would also wonder what else I didn’t know about him.
What if we changed the scenario slightly—what if you were starting a relationship with someone, and he/she told you that there would always be someone else? It was someone they couldn’t/wouldn’t be with on a permanent basis (for whatever reason); but that when they were in town they would probably see them. Could you do that? Could you compartmentalize your relationship with that person so that his/her weekend out had no impact? Would you enter the arrangement making rational arguments in its favor while secretly thinking that your relationship with him/her will be so amazing that he/she will stop needing that other person? That would be the temptation, I think, particularly if there is already emotional investment. But if you are invested, surely that way only leads to heartbreak.